Retiree builds steam traction engines that bring back memories of bygone era
Guy Campbell adjusted the piston on his miniature engine and then, looking up at his visitor, remarked, “When I complete this steam traction engine it will be able to pull any car in town.”
The engine he referred to is not much bigger than a garbage can. Yet, when finished, it will weigh 135 pounds, produce 95 pounds of pressure and travel about five miles per hour.
It is one of three model steam engines owned by Guy, a Weirton Steel retiree whose hobby is reproducing giant steam tractors in miniature. Complete in every mechanical detail, the tiny models have real action and power. In fact, they run and operate the same way their larger prototypes do.
Guy’s interest in this hobby grew from his experiences on the old Campbell Addition, the farmland on which Weirton was built. Born there on April 22, 1884, he lived with steam engines during their heyday on American farms.
“Back in 1912, I owned a big steam traction engine,” he recalls. “Not every farmer could afford one in those days. So I took mine from farm to farm, threshing wheat and baling hay for the neighbors.”
In 1918, Guy gave up farming and began making steel at Weirton Steel Co. He worked at various jobs, but when he retired in 1953 he was a machinist in the Steel Works Machine Shop.
Being a machinist was very useful to Guy when he started making miniature engines 15 years ago, for parts are shipped to him as castings — or basic shapes — by a supplier in Oregon. To make them fit, he must then turn them down on a lathe, which he has in the basement of his home in Weirton.
Besides mechanical skill, Guy’s hobby requires, above all, patience. For it takes about a year to build an engine provided all the parts of iron, steel, bronze and brass are available when needed. Since the parts are expensive, Guy orders them one at a time and, consequently, he has been working on the 135-pound engine for eight years. But he hopes to complete it this year.
Then it will be time to fire up the steam engine with coal or charcoal briquettes, a process that takes about 15 minutes (for some, it takes an hour and a half). As the engine chugs along, belching smoke from its chimney, Guy will feel that he is being rewarded in full for his many hours of work.